Bryan Murray, the Washington Capitals' coach, has an abundance of right-hand men. He just wishes so many of them weren't coming to his defense.
With Rick Green injured, all six defensemen are right-hand shots, most likely the first time that has ever happened in the National Hockey League. There have been teams with six left-hand shooters on the backline, but until recently right-hand shots in hockey were scarce.
The Capitals' abnormal situation has forced Terry Murray, Green's usual partner, to make his first-ever appearance on the left side, paired with Timo Blomqvist. Randy Holt is the off man with Paul MacKinnon, and Greg Theberge continues to play the left alongside Darren Veitch.
Some confusion resulted from the pairings at this morning's practice at the Montreal Forum and, along with lack of interest by some forwards, prompted Bryan Murray to terminate a forechecking drill, order hard skating and stalk off in disgust after a concluding lecture.
"There'll be bodies carried off if you play against New York like that," Murray told his troops. "They're going to pour in on you and if you don't move the puck any quicker, you're going to get your noses ground into the glass."
Ryan Walter missed most of the session with an attack of diarrhea and Murray grumped, "Most of the guys looked like they had diarrhea out there."
With Green gone, the Capitals will require a 100 percent effort from everyone to keep from being blown off the ice Thursday night when they battle the Stanley Cup-champion New York Islanders at Nassau Coliseum. The Islanders scored 10 goals against Quebec Tuesday and they will be facing a Washington team that has yielded 31 goals in its last five games, even with Green available.
A decade ago, the few right-hand shots in hockey were left-handed players who gripped the stick in reverse for power reasons. Now, there seems to be no determining factor in why a youngster starts out shooting left or right. Of the Capitals' six right-hand defenders, three -- Veitch, Murray and Blomqvist -- do everything with the right hand. Theberge, MacKinnon and Holt are natural left-handers.
Where most left-handed defensemen have been called upon to play the right side at some time in their careers, Murray never has played on the left before, just as MacKinnon never did until asked to shift temporarily when Green was injured Monday.
"It's all new, untested waters," Murray said. "I can't see one big difference, but a whole lot of things. I'm disoriented on the whole thing."
Holt, who has filled both defensive roles and played on both wings during a career as a utility man, found both problems and advantages on the off side.
"The big difficulty is when the puck is coming around the boards and a forward is trying to hit you," Holt said. "You have to take it on the backhand, cradle the puck and absorb the hit. On the other side, you can just slap it back in.
"On the other hand, it helps you breaking out of your zone, because you can set up behind the net and pass to your partner on your forehand. And you don't need a lot of arm movement to pass the puck up to your center."